The pilot settled into his seat and fastened the seat-belt, feeling for the rudder pedals with his feet. He made sure that the wheel brakes were on, pushed the pitch control lever right down, turned on the fuel and pressed the starter. Satisfied with the beat of the engine, he released the rotor brake and softly twisted the throttle on the pitch control. Outside the cabin windows the long rotor blades slowly swung by and the pilot glanced astern at the whirring tail rotor. He settled himself back and watched the rotor speed indicator creep up to 200 revolutions a minute. When the needle was just over the 200, he released the wheel brakes and pulled up slowly and firmly on the pitch lever. Above him the blades of the rotor tilted and bit deeper into the air. More throttle, and the machine slowly rose clattering towards the sky until, at about 100 feet, the pilot simultaneously gave it left rudder and pushed forward the joystick between his knees.
The helicopter swung towards the east and, gathering height and speed, roared away back up the path of the moon.
The man on the ground watched it go, and with it the £100,000 worth of diamonds his men had filched from the diggings during the past month and had casually held out on their pink tongues as he stood beside the dentist’s chair and brusquely inquired where it hurt.
Still talking about their teeth, he would pick the stones out of their mouths and hold them up to the dentist’s spotlight, and then softly he would say 50, 75, 100; and they always nodded and took the notes and hid them in their clothes and went out of the surgery with a couple of aspirins in a twist of paper as an alibi. They had to accept his price. There was no hope of a native getting diamonds out. When the miners did get out, perhaps once a year to visit their tribe or to bury a relative, there was a whole routine of X-rays and castor oil to be gone through, and a grim future if they were caught. It was so easy to go to the dental surgery and pick the day when ‘Him’ was on duty. And paper-money didn’t show up on X-rays.
The man wheeled his motor-cycle over the rough ground on to the narrow trail and started off towards the frontier hills of Sierra Leone. They were more distinct now. He would only just have time to get to Susie’s hut before dawn. He grimaced at the thought of having to make love to her at the end of an exhausting night. But it would have to be done. Money was not enough to pay for the alibi she gave him. It was his white body she wanted. And then another ten miles to the club for breakfast and the coarse jokes of his friends.
“Do a nice bit of inlay, Doc?”
“I hear she has the best set of frontals in the Province.”
“Say Doc, what is it the full moon does to you?”
But each £100,000 worth meant £1000 for him in a London safe deposit. Nice crisp fivers. It was worth it. By God it was. But not for much longer. No sir! At £2o,ooo he would definitely quit. And then…?
His mind full of lush dreams, the man on the motor-cycle bumped his way as fast as he could across the plain-away from the great thorn bush where the pipeline for the richest smuggling operation in the world started its devious route to where it would finally gush out on to soft bosoms, five thousand miles away.
“Don’t push it in. Screw it in,” said M impatiently.
James Bond, making a mental note to pass M’s dictum on to the Chief of Staff, again picked up the jeweller’s glass from the desk where it had fallen and this time managed to fix it securely into the socket of his right eye.
Although it was late July and the room was bright with sunshine, M had switched on his desk light and tilted it so that it shone straight at Bond. Bond picked the brilliant-cut stone up and held it to the light. As he turned it between his fingers, all the colours of the rainbow flashed back at him from its mesh of facets until his eye was tired with the dazzle.
He took out the jeweller’s glass and tried to think of something appropriate to say.
M looked at him quizzically. “Fine stone?”
“Wonderful,” said Bond. “It must be worth a lot of money.”
“A few pounds for the cutting,” said M dryly. “It’s a bit of quartz. Now then, let’s try again.” He consulted a list on the desk in front of him and selected a fold of tissue paper, verified the number written on it, unfolded it and pushed it across to Bond.
Bond put the piece of quartz back into its own wrapping and picked up the second sample.
“It’s easy for you, Sir,” he smiled at M. “You’ve got the crib.” He screwed the glass back into his eye and held the stone, if it was a stone, up to the light.
This time, he thought, there could be no doubt about it. This stone also had the thirty-two facets above and the twenty-four below of the brilliant-cut, and it was also about twenty carats, but what he now held had a heart of blue-white flame, and the infinite colours reflected and refracted from its depths lanced into his eye like needles. With his left hand he picked up the quartz dummy and held it beside the diamond in front of his glass. It was a lifeless chunk of matter, almost opaque beside the dazzling translucence of the diamond, and the rainbow colours he had seen a few minutes before were now coarse and muddy.
Bond put down the piece of quartz and gazed again into the heart of the diamond. Now he could understand the passion that diamonds had inspired through the centuries, the almost sexual love they aroused among those who handled them and cut them and traded in them. It was domination by a beauty so pure that it held a kind of truth, a divine authority before which all other material things turned, like the bit of quartz, to clay. In these few minutes Bond understood the myth of diamonds, and he knew that he would never forget what he had suddenly seen inside the heart of this stone..
He put the diamond down on its slip of paper and dropped the jeweller’s glass into the palm of his hand. He looked across into M’s watchful eyes. “Yes,” he said. “I see.”
M sat back in his chair. “That’s what Jacoby meant when I had lunch with him the other day at the Diamond Corporation,” he said. “He said that if I was going to get involved in the diamond business I ought to try and understand what was really at the bottom of it all. Not just the millions of money involved, or the value of diamonds as a hedge against inflation, or the sentimental fashions in diamonds for engagement rings and so forth. He said one must understand the passion for diamonds. So he just showed me what I’m showing you. And,” M smiled thinly at Bond, “if it will give you any satisfaction, I was just as taken in by that bit of quartz as you were.”
Bond sat still and said nothing.
“And now let’s run through the rest,” said M. He gestured towards the pile of paper packets in front of him. “I said I’d like to borrow some samples. They didn’t seem to mind. Sent this lot round to my house this morning.” M consulted his list, opened a packet and pushed it across to Bond. “What you were looking at just now was the best-a ‘Fine Blue-white’.” He gestured towards the big diamond in front of Bond. “Now this is a ‘Top Crystal’, ten carats, baguette-cut. Very fine stone, but worth about half a ‘Blue-white’. You’ll see there’s the faintest trace of yellow in it. The ‘Cape’ I’m going to show you next has a slight brownish tinge, according to Jacoby, but I’m damned if I can see it. I doubt if anyone can except the experts.”
Bond obediently picked up the Top Crystal’ and for the next quarter, of an hour M led him through the whole range of diamonds down to a wonderful series of coloured stones, ruby red, blue, pink, yellow, green and violet. Finally, M pushed over a packet of smaller stones, all flawed or marked or of poor colour. “Industrial diamonds. Not what they call ‘gem quality’. Used in machine tools and so forth. But don’t despise them. America bought £5,000,000 worth of them last year, and that’s only one of the markets. Bronsteen told me it was stones like these that were used for cutting the St Gothard tunnel. At the other end of the scale, dentists use them for drilling your teeth. They’re the hardest substance in the world. Last forever.”
M pulled out his pipe and started to fill it. “And now you know as much about diamonds as I do.”
Bond sat back in his chair and gazed vaguely at the bits of tissue paper and glittering stones that lay scattered across the red leather surface of M’s desk. He wondered what it was all about.
There was the rasp of a match against a box and Bond watched M tamp the burning tobacco down in the bowl of his pipe and then put the matchbox back in his pocket and tilt his chair in M’s favourite attitude for reflection.
Bond glanced down at his watch. It was 11.30. Bond thought with pleasure of the in-tray piled with Top Secret dockets he had gladly abandoned when the red telephone had summoned him an hour before. He felt fairly confident that now he wouldn’t have to deal with them. “I guess it’s a job,” the Chief of Staff had said in answer to Bond’s inquiry. “The Chief says he won’t take any more calls before lunch and he’s made an appointment for you at the Yard for two o’clock. Step on it.” And Bond had reached for his coat and had gone into the outer office where he was pleased to see his secretary registering in another bulky file with a Most Immediate tab.
“M,” said Bond as she looked up. “And Bill says it looks like a job. So don’t think you’re going to have the pleasure of shovelling that lot into my in-tray. You can post it off to the Daily Express for all I care.” He grinned at her. “Isn’t that chap Sefton Delmer a boy friend of yours, Lil? Just the stuff for him, I expect.”
She looked at him appraisingly. “Your tie’s crooked,” she said coldly. “And anyway I hardly know him.” She bent over her registry and Bond went out and along the corridor and thought how lucky he was to have a beautiful secretary.
There was a creak from M’s chair and Bond looked across the table at the man who held a great deal of his affection and all his loyalty and obedience.
The grey eyes looked back at him thoughtfully. M took the pipe out of his mouth. “How long have you been back from that holiday in France?”
“Two weeks, Sir.”
“Have a good time?”
“Not bad, Sir. Got a bit bored towards the end.”
M made no comment. “I’ve been looking at your record sheet. Small-arms marks seem to be keeping well up in the top bracket. Unarmed combat’s satisfactory and your last medical shows you’re in pretty good shape.” M paused. “The point is,” he went on unemotionally, “I’ve got rather a tough assignment for you. Wanted to make sure you’d be able to take care of yourself.”
“Of course, Sir.” Bond was slightly nettled.
“Don’t make any mistake about this job, 007,” said M sharply. “When I say it may be tough, I’m not being melodramatic. There are plenty of tricky people you haven’t met yet, and there may be some of them mixed up in this business. And some of the most efficient. So don’t be tetchy when I think twice before getting you involved in it.”
“All right then,” M put his pipe down and leant forward with his arms crossed on the desk. “I’ll tell you the story and then you can decide whether you want to take it on.”